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Literature / Summers at Castle Auburn

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Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn tells the story of Coriel, more commonly called Corie, a bastard daughter of the illustrious Halsing family. She lives a simple village life with her maternal grandmother, the local wise woman and witch, as her apprentice until she is six years old when the noble side of her heritage comes to call. Her father is dead, her uncle wishes to see Corie properly cared for. From that year, Corie spends her summers at Castle Auburn with her blue-blooded half-sister Elisandra.

Life at the castle is a completely different world from village life. Elisandra is engaged to the crown prince, Bryan, and has been since they were infants. The marriage, and Bryan ascending the throne, will happen when he turns twenty, something that makes the nobles of the realm nervous as they've been doing well under the stern but steady guidance of the regent, Bryan's uncle Matthew. Corie's beloved uncle Jaxon is involved in the capture and sale of aliora, something that troubles Corie more and more as she grows older. And Corie herself is trained to be a young noble lady by Elisandra's mother, Greta, in hopes of using her to make a politically advantageous marriage.

To make matters worse, even Corie's life away from court is not without its complications as her grandmother takes on another student and Corie is falling behind in her magical studies when she leaves for three months every summer. Corie struggles to make sense of personal and political forces around her and not only stay adrift but to carve out a life she wants and protect her most-beloved sister.

Summers at Castle Auburn provides examples of:

  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Every girl at court, Corie included, is a little in love with the wild, handsome Prince Bryan.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Averted. Corie has many traits that her proper older sister could find very irritating—curious, a tomboy, cheeky, nosy—but Elisandra not only doesn't mind, she loves Corie specifically because of those things.
  • The Apprentice: Originally, Corie to her grandmother, though later Milette enters the picture as well.
  • Arranged Marriage: Elisandra has been engaged to Bryan since they were infants.
  • Asshole Victim: No one is much sad at Bryan's demise, given his behavior.
  • Bastard Bastard: What little we know about Corie's mother says that she was a terrible person.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Between Rowena and Jaxon. They clearly have very complicated feelings for each other, and they express it in veiled threats.
  • Beneath the Mask: We see so much of Elisandra's mask that when she shows what she's really feeling it's almost shocking even to Corie.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: All over the story.
    • Jaxon Halsing is a good, loving uncle to his nieces, but he's also a hunter and trader of aliora.
    • Andrew, like all aliora, is a pacifist and does not cause harm, but when Bryan injures Rowena, he turns against his master to protect his queen.
    • Elisandra is placid and sweet, and she poisons Bryan to get out of being married to him.
  • Black Widow: Elisandra murders Bryan on their wedding night.
  • Broken Bird: Elisandra has to maintain her perfect calm, because going along with the machinations around her is the only way to keep it together.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Corie mentions a number of herbs through the story, what they do, and how they can be used for good or for ill. They get used sooner or later.
  • Child by Rape: Corie. Though in an interesting reversal, her mother raped her father.
  • Coming of Age Story: For Corie in particular, but also for her friends.
  • Cool Uncle: Jaxon in spades. He travels widely, lives an exciting life, showers his nieces with gifts, and is pretty determined to live and die single.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: Very, very minor. There is a mention of a god, indicating a monotheist society, but the worship of that god goes without mention aside from some wedding ceremonies.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: Corie takes one of her own potions that opens someone's eyes to reality. She blames this for her horrible realizations the summer she is seventeen, but it is more likely she just grew up enough to understand things.
  • Disappeared Dad: Elisandra and Corie's father is dead before the story begins.
  • Double Standard Rape: Female on Male: Played straight. Early on, Corie's grandmother admits that her daughter seduced Corie's father with magic and raped him, and this wasn't the first time. But then in chapter nine Corie actually blames her father for being raped and even compares him to the villainous Prince Bryan for it and Kent and Elisandra agree with her...! That level of casual victim blaming would probably not go down well if the perpetrator had been male. To emphasize a deliberate double standard based on gender, Corie makes a potion for a lovesick castle guard to use on a girl, but the ethics of this are actually explored with regards to using a potion on a female character, as she says her potion will only make the girl notice him, not love him. Corie could make standard love potions, but she doesn't want to practice "that kind of magic" on other female characters. By contrast, at the end of chapter six she announces that a man should be fair game, "assuming he was not a total boor." This fits in with her rather twisted views on her father. Furthermore, the author treats her contempt for male rape victims as part of her enlightenment in the summer she turns seventeen, when she grows up enough to be able to see what is wrong with Castle Auburn.
  • Elopement: Elisandra runs away from court with Roderick and marries him.
  • The Fair Folk: The aliora, who are sometimes captured and sold into slavery in noble households. All metal, not just iron, hurts them.
  • Feminine Women Can Cook: Invoked when Roderick basically says this. Corie points out to him that most noblewomen can't cook.
  • Fiery Redhead: Bryan is every negative stereotype associated with red hair.
  • Foil: Kent and Bryan. They are cousins, members of the royal family, and polar opposites.
  • Friend to All Living Things: The aliora as a race care for everything living. This is true of males and females.
  • Gilded Cage: Castle Auburn is a fancy home of nobles, which means it is both luxurious and dangerous, with many social entanglements and restrictions. Corie can't leave it during the summer.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Completely and totally averted with Elisandra and Corie. While the girls each envy much about the other's circumstances, they are best friends.
  • Going Native: Humans who find themselves in Alora always do this. Unless they're Jaxon Halsing, but even he gives in eventually.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Anything slightly displeasing can set Bryan off, and he'll rant and rage until he gets his way or someone showers him with flattery.
  • Happy Engagement Charade: Bryan and Elisandra know how to put on the performance of future king and queen and look good together (Corie notes that they are fantastic dance partners for example), but they don't love each other, or even like each other. They don't even have anything to say about each other. But politics demand they marry anyway.
  • Heroic Bastard: Corie, our friendly protagonist, is an illegitimate child.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Corie and Elisandra's parent figures (mother in Elisandra's case), Jaxon and Greta. Jaxon is a huge, wild-looking man, while Greta is so small that if she could ever be quiet, people would overlook her. Fortunately for Greta and unfortunately for those around her, she is never quiet.
    • This happens again when Jaxon marries the small, delicate Queen Rowena.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Kent proposes to Elisandra so she won't have to marry Bryan because Corie asked him to do it..
  • Kick the Dog: Bryan deliberately grabs an aliora without taking off his jewelry, knowing full well he's going to hurt her. He gets cracked over the head with a wine bottle for it.
  • Like Brother and Sister: Corie and Elisandra have this kind of relationship with Kent, though Corie thinks Kent has deeper feelings for Elisandra. It's actually Corie he's in love with.
  • Love Potion:
    • Corie makes some for a lovesick castle guard. The ethics of this are actually explored in the piece as she says her potion will only make the girl notice him, not love him. Corie could make standard love potions, but she doesn't want to practice "that kind of magic," on other female characters, but at the end of chapter six she announces that a man is fair game, "assuming he was not a total boor." This fits in with her rather twisted views on her father.
    • A more standard love potion was involved in Corie's conception.
  • Marry for Love: Ultimately both Corie and Elisandra get to marry the men they love. Jaxon gets to marry the woman he loves, too.
  • Missing Mom: Corie's mother hasn't been seen or heard from since Corie was a toddler. Corie doesn't particularly mind.
  • My Beloved Smother: Greta is very much a smother to Elisandra, and in her desire to see her daughter become queen, she doesn't seem to know anything about Elisandra as a person. This isn't out of malice, Greta simply doesn't look deeper than Elisandra's fa├žade of calm.
  • Oblivious to Love: Corie, painfully so. She doesn't see when someone is in love with her, and she's very bad at figuring out who is in love with who.
  • Onee-sama: Elisandra is practically perfect in every way, and she adores and dotes on her rough little sister. Corie would give anything to be just like her.
  • Parental Substitute: Jaxon is the closest to a father that Corie and Elisandra have, and he tells them all the time how proud their father would be.
  • Perfect Pacifist People: The aliora. They as a race are almost incapable of doing harm and beautiful to a one.
  • Prince Charmless: Bryan is spoiled, hot-headed, cruel, and stupid. The only reason he isn't The Evil Prince is because he totally lacks political ambition.
  • Proper Lady: Elisandra Halsing is the very image of what a young noblewoman should be.
  • Raised by Grandparents: Corie is being brought up by her maternal grandmother.
  • Raven Hair, Ivory Skin:
    • Dark hair and pale skin in a trait that runs in the Halsing family. Elisandra, combining this coloring with her mother's delicate features, is a celebrated court beauty.
    • Elisandra's sister Corie is a black-and-white beauty, too, though rougher around the edges, she also cleans up well and has many suitors when she is old enough for the marriage market because of her looks.
    • The aliora queen Rowena is so pale as to be almost white of skin with black hair. Other aliora regard her as being the epitome of their race in beauty.
  • Rescue Romance: Played with. Elisandra falls for Roderick not because he saved her, but because he saved her sister after Corie fell from a horse.
  • Rightful King Returns: This is the image of Bryan taking power that everyone pretends is the truth, because the reality is too depressing.
  • Royal Brat: Bryan is more into using his power to get his way than to actually do anything useful.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Lord Matthew works very hard; he's one of the first people up in the morning and last people to sleep at night. His son Kent follows suit. As opposed to Bryan, who appears to be Idle Rich.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Elisandra isn't nearly as passive and helpless as she appears to be.
  • Slave Liberation: Corie takes it upon herself to free all the aliora when they're all in Castle Auburn for the royal wedding.
  • Suddenly Suitable Suitor: When Kent proposes to Corie at the end, Jaxon has declared himself legally dead and his nieces as his heirs. Thus Corie, the only eligible Halsing daughter, is suddenly a suitable queen.
  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: Elisandra shows a mild form of this. She is unfailingly kind, patient, and gracious with everyone, but she is also almost too calm. With someone she really loves like Corie, she is more open and affectionate.
  • Superhuman Trafficking: Aliora are taken as slaves for their intelligence, beauty, gentleness, and the subtle magic of their soothing presence.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: Bryan has a taster specifically because he fears being poisoned, and even stops drinking water from the famous castle well because he claims it can't be trusted. Of course, he eventually dies by poisoning, and to make it even more ironic, the antidote was in the water.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Corie and Elisandra are Sibling Yin-Yang in this manner, with Corie being a rougher village girl and Elisandra being a refined lady of the court.
  • The Unpronounceable: Aliora names are too hard for humans to say, so humans call them by approximations or even rename them—Rowena, Cressida, Andrew.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Corie treats Greta as such, but she acknowledges that their relationship is a complicated one and doesn't blame Greta for disliking her.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Corie starts out this way, but as she gets older she realizes the world isn't as simple and beautiful as it seems.
  • Widowed at the Wedding: Bryan is poisoned at his wedding feast by his bride.
  • The Wrongful Heir to the Throne: Bryan Ouvrelet will make a terrible king and everyone knows it and there's nothing anyone can legally do to stop it.